26 October, 2020

Blog

Pillay Incurs Sri Lanka’s Wrath

By Alan Keenan –

Dr. Alan Keenan

Concluding her recent fact-finding trip to Sri Lanka, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government was “heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction… despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state”.

Pillay’s statement cited a long and growing list of serious human rights problems, including “persistent impunity and the failure of rule of law”.

The Sri Lankan government responded to her comments with accusations of “prejudice” and a “lack of fairness and balance”.

Alleging authoritarianism, it argued Pillay “clearly transgresses her mandate and the basic norms which should be observed by a discerning international civil servant” and was a “caricature” who was “influenced by vested interests”.

During her trip, ministers had questioned Pillay’s motives and even-handedness.

Citing her south Indian heritage, they argued she was sympathetic to the Tamil Tigers, who were defeated in the brutal conclusion to Sri Lanka’s quarter-century of war in May 2009.

Such harsh public criticism of the high commissioner would be unusual in other contexts, but it is the Sri Lankan government’s routine response to international officials who challenge their narrative of a post-war Sri Lanka well on its way to reconciliation.

The government’s denial and refusal to engage even well-intentioned criticism are reflected in its continuing repudiation of important reforms called for in consecutive resolutions by the UN Human Rights Council in March last year and this year.

Not surprisingly, Sri Lankan activists and political opponents face much worse treatment.

Pillay highlighted the government’s “harassment and intimidation” of community leaders and human rights advocates she had just met.

“Utterly unacceptable at any time,” she said, “it is particularly extraordinary for such treatment to be meted out during a visit by a UN high commissioner for human rights.

“This type of surveillance and harassment appears to be getting worse in Sri Lanka, which is a country where critical voices are quite often attacked or even permanently silenced.”

It is to the great credit of Pillay that she has brought global attention to the problem, having raised the issue in her opening statement to the UN Human Rights Council, whose latest session began this week.

Pillay’s initial assessment of her visit made it clear she wasn’t fooled by a series of government moves – a handful of arrests, a few new inquiries, recycled promises of legal reform – designed to make it appear as if it is addressing international concerns about impunity and rule of law deficits.

Although Pillay “welcomed” a newly appointed commission of inquiry into war-time disappearances – the latest in a long line of official commissions that have failed to weaken systemic impunity – her fundamental message was clear: the Rajapaksa government was moving in the wrong direction.

Her week-long fact-finding mission affirms the International Crisis Group’s findings that Sri Lanka has spurned the suggested reforms called for by the UN Human Rights Council in March last year and this year.

Sri Lanka has failed even to implement the core recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

Pillay found Sri Lankans faced a “sustained assault” on freedom of expression; a judiciary whose independence was badly undermined by January’s politically motivated impeachment of the chief justice; an “oppressive and intrusive” military presence in Tamil majority areas of the north and east; a “recent surge in incitement of hatred and violence against religious minorities, including attacks on churches and mosques”, without effective action being taken against the perpetrators; and a continued failure to investigate allegations of war crimes in a credible and independent manner.

In response to the charge of authoritarianism, the government has pointed to Sri Lanka’s numerous post-war elections as proof of its democratic credentials.

As the campaigning under way for provincial council seats illustrates, elections that are held in the context of state control of the media, impunity for rights violations and heavy militarisation are better seen as useful tools to consolidate Rajapaksa’s government power rather than as opportunities for open debate and citizen choice.

The lesson of Pillay’s visit is not just that the situation is deteriorating, but that the Rajapaksa regime’s rigid denial of its grave human rights crisis demands a more robust united international response.In this context, South Africa has an important role to play when it joins other Commonwealth leaders at the organisation’s annual heads of government meeting in Colombo in November.

Commonwealth leaders should publicly challenge Sri Lanka’s institutionalised impunity for human rights abuses, its tolerance of attacks on Muslims and the deliberate undermining of the rule of law.

They should publicly insist on the need for a proper process of accountability for events at the end of the war – as the ANC and South African government have previously called for.

The government should not be allowed to use the Commonwealth heads of government meeting to showcase a false picture of a democratic country at peace and on the road to reconciliation.

Members of the UN Human Rights Council should begin informal discussions to design an international mechanism empowered to investigate the many credible allegations of violations of international law by both sides in Sri Lanka’s civil war and monitor continuing human rights violations and attacks on the rule of law.

The council should move to establish this mechanism during its session in March next year.

Before leaving Sri Lanka, Pillay expressed shock at the levels of trauma and emotional distress she encountered in those she met from the north and east, especially among families of those forcibly disappeared.

“I have never seen this level of uncontrollable grief,” she said.

The emotional and political wounds of Sri Lanka’s decades of civil war can only begin to be healed once the government ends its policy of denial.

Insisting the Sri Lankan government do so is perhaps the most important way the international community can help lay the foundations for a sustainable and just peace.

*Alan Keenan is the International Crisis Group’s Sri Lanka Project Director and Senior Analyst, based in London. He coordinates and contributes to Crisis Group research, publications and advocacy on Sri Lanka. Alan has lived and worked in Sri Lanka for extended periods since first visiting in February 2000. He has a PhD in political theory and has taught at various US colleges and universities before joining Crisis Group in 2006.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    According to the rajapaksa regime, every UN official, or those who represent human rights agencies, speak with their own devious agendas. The regime in their simple minds, and with the intention of fooling Sri Lankans, have a victim mentality, and seem to constantly find some negative aspect in those who “dare” ask for investigations and accountability, to attack the messenger. The “woe is us, every one is out to get us” lament. In this case, because Ms. Pillay is from India and Tamil origin, it automatically makes her “prejudice”. Others of Western origin, are all puppets of Tamil lobbies. This is getting old, stale, and makes the regime look more like rogues who keep stalling, dodging, and lying. Every bit of evidence including videos showing the brutality of Gota’s troops (now confirmed brutal by Weliweriya), are dismissed as fake, which could be proved very easily with the latest technology available in other nations.

    “The government should not be allowed to use the Commonwealth heads of government meeting to showcase a false picture of a democratic country at peace and on the road to reconciliation.”

    Well said.
    The sudden matching of DNA evidence linking criminals to the death of a British aid worker, and the feeble attempt to stop violence against minorities, and the obvious show to put on a false front, fools no one, even the Sri Lankan people. The rajapaksa’s keep insulting the intelligence of the world, and their own people.

    • 0
      0

      Quote from the article
      [… Before leaving Sri Lanka, Pillay expressed shock at the levels of trauma and emotional distress she encountered in those she met from the north and east, especially among families of those forcibly disappeared.

      “I have never seen this level of uncontrollable grief,” she said.”]

      Pillay had NEVER SEEN this level of UNCONTROLLABLE GRIEF!
      This is the commissioner of UNHRC …
      This kind of subjective remarks by Pillay are numerous regarding Sri Lanka … she think Sri Lanka is 90% of the world. No wonder she spends her longest time in SL in her tenure as commissioner listening to stories of UNCONTROLLABLE grief?

      What a girl?
      She says that she is offended by racist remarks regarding her in Sri Lanka? What about many many srilankans who had been offended by her loose remarks regarding SL, Madam?

      SHE IS THE ARROGANT RACIST human rights commissioner for Sri Lanka … She thinks SL should be taught a lesson while whole world is burning with war, misery, dispair and incidences of UNCONTROLLABLE grief RIGHT NOW.

      She is very very biased in Srilankan affairs siding with one ethinic group … One writer explains it in the island like this.

      . “…..When Pillay raised the question of the Buddhist flag and the statue of D. S. Senanayke at the Independence Square she exhibited naïve Tamil racism like a child who does things to satisfy the elders. After all she should have known that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country, as much as US and South Africa are Christian countries in spite of what their constitutions may say, though perhaps she may not know that the Brownrigg who rigged the Sinhala English accord aka the Kandyan convention of 1815 had promised to protect Buddhism in the said accord. She would definitely not ask Obama why he took the oath with his hand on the Bible and not on the Dhammapada or Bhagavad Gita not to mention Quran. The naïve Tamil racist in Pillay probably wants to remove the Senanayaka statue from the Independence Square as DS Senanayaka was a Sinhala politician. I do not agree that D. S. Senanayaka and the Congress fought for independence of the country and when compared to Keppitipola, Puran Appu, Gongalegoda Banda, Anagarika Dharmapala and numerous Bhikkus and lay people who fought for independence after 1815, the Congress leaders were nowhere near. However, to question the President on the statue of Senanayaka merely because the latter was a Sinhala, Pillay behaved like an arrogant girl in spite of her age. I am not at all surprised by the lukewarm response of the UNP on this matter as the party has always been an agent of the non nationalist forces. Would Pillay suggest the removal of the statue of Washington or Lincoln or some other President of the USA merely because they were Anglo Saxon Americans?…”

      • 0
        0

        Bruno Umbato aka Paradig Colman…havent seen any of your articles glorifying the government lately. Whats the matter, the government not paying you enough? Or are you waiting till November when the CHOGM circus comes to town to start earning your keep? :D

      • 0
        0

        “She says that she is offended by racist remarks regarding her in Sri Lanka? What about many many srilankans who had been offended by her loose remarks regarding SL, Madam?”

        It seems you are unable to comprehend the difference between making (personal) racist remarks (being Tamil) against a person, and a UN official criticizing a country.
        Her job as a top UN official IS to investigate AND criticize. Making racist remarks against anyone, especially someone doing her job, is more like gutter behavior.
        Only the minority population that believes the Sri Lankan government pretends to be offended.
        If they had half a brain they would be offended about the crime and corruption going on in this country.

    • 0
      0

      “..Pillay’s statement cited a long and growing list of serious human rights problems,..”

      If she was from UNHRC, She hadn’t seen those in Iraq when US & UK forced killed 1.2 million people in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction ??

      She did not come here as Pillay of Tamil origin women , but what she did & said was best described as those of a Tamil Woman on LTTE payroll only.

      Naked Double Standards on display when US/West murderous regimes destroy the whole world by indiscriminately killing millions of people mercilessly.

      “…This writer.. Alan Keenan has lived and worked in Sri Lanka for extended periods since first visiting in February 2000..”
      He might have worked for LTTE terrorists through US/West NGO mafia.

    • 0
      0

      Hey Dude Alan.
      You need to focus on the post-war MILITARIZATION of Sri Lanka by international donors that support the Ministry of Defense..
      In post-war Lanka the military which is involved in massive MILITARY BUSINESS is being funded by various international donors – the racist Aussi Govt (that is funding the Navy that is involved in military business, land grabbing from coastal communities and people smuggling – ironically to prevent refugees from Lanka going to Aussi – ha, ha, ha!) and the World Bank isfunding the Ministry of Defense via UDA.
      DO NO HARM is a principle of AID disbursment observed in the breach in post-war Sri Lanka by international donors and they must be held accountable.
      International donors such as the WORLD BANK, DIFID, Asia Foundation etc. that was offering all sorts of knowledge (Triple R advice) on development in post/conflict situations, have been amazingly SILENT about the need to demobilize, decommission and down size the military and DEMILITARIZE DEVELOPMENT AND GOVERNANCE to prevent corruption and promote reconcilliation. The international development industry is a PATHETIC fraud!

  • 0
    0

    So, what about it? She visited Jaffna but did not visit Thondamanaru at our invitation.

  • 0
    0

    It would not have mattered who came on a fact-finding mission, whoever did was going to get the ‘full-treatment’ of insults, denials, accusations of bias and whatever else came to hand. Ministers, regime sycophants et al queued up to have a shot at Commissioner Pillay and earn brownie points with the ruling party. That the erudite and competent commissioner had Tamil ethnicity provided added incentive for the ministerial low life that enjoy the patronage of our President. What should be a time of peace and happiness for us Sri Lankans is turning into a hellish inferno with no end in sight.

  • 0
    0

    It is absolutely usual for the Sri Lankan government to dub anyone critical of the regime from whatever quarter as a pro – Tiger.
    Sengodan. M

  • 0
    0

    So, having failed to help the LTTE divide Sri Lanka and India, “Dr” Alan Keenan now seems to have taken up comedy writing for a profession. The South African government, whose police force killed 44 striking miners in August last year – most of them shot in the back – is called upon to preach to Sri Lanka about human rights and the importance of the rule of law! That’s without mentioning South Africa’s appalllingly high rates of crime and rape.

    There’s few scenarios more worthy of contempt than one hypocrite telling another bunch of hypocrites: “Carry on. You’re doing a great service to humanity in keeping my salary coming in!”

    • 0
      0

      Candidly, I take it you are Sri Lankan. Let me be candid: bugger other countries and their problems. We signed up to membership of the UN and promised to abide by their conventions. We turn up in the clubhouse improperly dressed and complain when the steward tells us off. This is what decent Sri Lankans now object to. The Yakko Hegemony of the new peaceful SL dictating new low standards. We have got ourselves into an almighty mess and all we can is go straight to denial and bleat our little eyes out. If we cannot abide by the rules of the club, let us get out and go it alone. Let us be the Albania of the east. In time to come the world will forget what shits we were and maybe take us back. Meanwhile, let’s send Junior to be educated in the west and learn a bit of English, the ‘kaduwa’ to impress the yakkos back home

  • 0
    0

    You loath the site of criticism of SL; your such a patriot that you prefer to keep your dirty linen under wrap! Why not you compare Sri Lanka to a better run Asian countries? I feel desperately sorry for people like you who find excuses to justify a corrupt and greedy regime like the MR regime.

    Leave aside the LTTE; forget about the minority issues for a minute; look at the way the country is being governed. Why don’t you channel your energy to put that right rather than shooting at a messenger like Dr Keenan?

    • 0
      0

      My post is aimed candidly to Candidly!

  • 0
    0

    Candidly, I take it you are Sri Lankan. Let me be candid: bugger other countries and their problems. We signed up to membership of the UN and promised to abide by their conventions. We turn up in the clubhouse improperly dressed and complain when the steward tells us off. This is what decent Sri Lankans now object to. The Yakko Hegemony of the new peaceful SL dictating new low standards. We have got ourselves into an almighty mess and all we can is go straight to denial and bleat our little eyes out. If we cannot abide by the rules of the club, let us get out and go it alone. Let us be the Albania of the east. In time to come the world will forget what shits we were and maybe take us back. Meanwhile, let’s send Junior to be educated in the west and learn a bit of English, the ‘kaduwa’ to impress the yakkos back home.

  • 0
    0

    The biggest war crime committed during the very recent past against humanity was the unwarranted attack on Iraq by the US. This need no proof as the very people who engineered and executed that attack accepted it was a “mistake” to have based on “unavailable weapon of mass destruction”.

    So who should be at the forefront to institute “war crimes” charges against US? No one else,other than the UNHRC headed by Ms. Navaneethan Pillai. Can she or has she ever explained or talked about this massive massacre of innocent human beings? If she brings it up, Obama will say “Let us move forward but not backward” and in fact he said it to the American people.

    So this Commissioner in charge of INHRC is like a “Shrimp” who speaks of “Cleanliness”.

    • 0
      0

      Can you substantiate that the US massacred Iraqi civilians deliberately? If you care to study as what has been going on in Iraq you will discover that it is the Al Quidea that has been killing the civilians and not the West.

  • 0
    0

    This violation of Human Rights in the current Sri Lankan political arena not only effects the minority Muslims and Tamils, But it effects the whole county.
    The public service and the number of ministers and ministries were increased by at least 30% and 20% respectively, and we have a public service of over 1.2 million and armed forces of over 300,000 and a police force of 86,000 to serve a 22 million nation. In doing so the cost of living in Sri Lanka has doubled since 2002 and the government usually changes its fiscal policy in the middle of the fiscal year, which effects the businesses the middle class and the country in whole.
    We do have to realize that the post war standard of living has been deteriorating in the country and cost of living is at its peak, the current regime is very clearly mismanaging and interfering with the monetary and fiscal policy of the country. This I believe is a HR violation that all the Sri Lankan tax payers will have to bare.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.